The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has declared that today is Insomnia Awareness Day, providing us with the perfect opportunity to evaluate our sleeping patterns to ensure we are getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

While fleeting insomnia symptoms are common, many people also experience insomnia  for prolonged periods of time. About 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from short-term insomnia disorder, which lasts up to three months. It may be caused by a stressful situation or a significant life change. It can even be triggered by a change in our schedule due to daylight saving time. Short-term insomnia often can be remedied with simple behavior and lifestyle modifications.

About 10 percent of the population, however, suffers from chronic insomnia, which involves ongoing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep – or regularly waking up earlier than desired – despite an adequate opportunity for sleep. Those suffering from chronic insomnia often experience daytime fatigue, cognitive impairment, irritability and lack of energy.

Are you at risk?
If you experience disrupted or insufficient sleep, ask yourself these questions to see if you may have insomnia:
  • Does it take you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, or do you wake up during the night and have trouble returning to sleep, or do you wake up at least 30 minutes earlier than desired?
  • Do you have daytime symptoms such as fatigue, moodiness, sleepiness or reduced energy?
  • Do you give yourself enough time in bed to get at least seven hours of sleep each night?
  • Do you go to bed in a safe, dark and quiet environment that should allow you to sleep well?
  • Does this sleep problem occur at least three times per week, and has it been present for at least three months?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, you may have chronic insomnia. Those suffering from chronic insomnia should talk to a doctor, who may refer you to the sleep team at an AASM-accredited sleep center.

Treating Chronic Insomnia
The primary treatment for chronic insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), an effective, long-term treatment that has no known side effects. CBT-I involves a combination of behavioral modification and cognitive strategies, such as replacement of unrealistic fears about sleep with more positive expectations. CBT-I recommendations are customized to address each patient’s individual needs and symptoms.

Many chronic insomnia sufferers have other chronic physical and mental health problems that should be considered during treatment. Sleep specialists can effectively treat both insomnia and the other co-occurring problems – such as depression and chronic pain – to improve overall health and quality of life. Likewise, there are often other factors that can negatively impact a person’s ability to sleep, such as caffeine consumption or medication side-effects. Sleep specialists can help those with insomnia address these disrupters to improve sleep quality.

Concerns about insomnia should be discussed with a doctor. Help for an ongoing sleep problem is available from the sleep team at an accredited sleep center. For more information or to find an AASM-accredited sleep center, visit www.sleepeducation.org.